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Donald Trump Jr says he has ‘zero contact’ with father as he runs business

Presidents older son, speaking to Republicans at a fundraiser in Dallas, says he does not miss politics but does miss the intensity of campaigning

Donald Trump Jr said he has had essentially zero contact with the president of the United States since his father took office and handed management of his business, without divesting, to his two adult sons.

I basically have zero contact with him at this point, Trump Jr told about 1,000 Republicans at a fundraiser in Dallas, Texas, on Saturday night.

Federal law exempts the president from ethics rules regarding conflicts of interest, but the Office of Government Ethics (OGE), as well as conservative and liberal attorneys, have repeatedly told the White House its plan to separate Trump from his businesses does not go far enough. In January, Trump declined to divest from his sprawling business interests, the extent of which remains unclear, given his refusal to release tax returns in the tradition of other presidents.

The White House has insisted that Trump has taken sufficient steps to remove himself from his businesses, promising, for instance, to give payments from foreign government guests, such as diplomats courted at Trumps new Washington hotel, to the US treasury. In January, a group of ethics attorneys, including former counsels to George W Bush and Barack Obama, sued Trump, alleging that such payments violated the emoluments clause of the constitution.

Trump has said that his sons, 39-year-old Donald Jr and 33-year-old Eric, would take over day-to-day business management, and both continue to travel extensively in the US and abroad in the service of their family business. At the Republican fundraiser, Trump Jr said he missed elements of the presidential campaign.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/mar/12/donald-trump-jr-says-he-has-zero-contact-with-father-as-he-runs-business


‘Trump lies all the time’: Bernie Sanders indicts president’s assault on democracy

Exclusive: the former presidential candidate suggested that Donald Trumps false claims serve a purpose to push the United States toward authoritarianism

Bernie Sanders has launched a withering attack on Donald Trump, accusing him of being a pathological liar who is driving America towards authoritarianism.

In an interview with the Guardian, the independent senator from Vermont, who waged a spirited campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016, gave a bleak appraisal of the new White House and its intentions.

He warned that Trumps most contentious outbursts against the media, judiciary and other pillars of American public life amounted to a conscious assault on democracy.

Trump lies all of the time and I think that is not an accident, there is a reason for that. He lies in order to undermine the foundations of American democracy.

Sanders warning comes 50 days into the Trump presidency at a time when the country is still reeling from the shock elevation of a real estate businessman and reality TV star to the worlds most powerful office. In that brief period, the new incumbent of the White House has launched attacks on former president Barack Obamas signature healthcare policy; on visitors from majority-Muslim countries, refugees and undocumented immigrants; and on trade agreements and environmental protection programs.

Speaking to the Guardian in his Senate office in Washington DC, Sanders said that he was concerned about what he called Trumps reactionary economic program of tax breaks to billionaires and devastating cuts to programs that impact the middle class. But he reserved his most excoriating language for what he believes are the presidents authoritarian tendencies.

He charged Trump with devising a conscious strategy of lies denigrating key public institutions, from the mainstream media to judges and even the electoral process itself, so that he could present himself as the sole savior of the nation. The aim was to put out the message that the only person in America who stands for the American people, the only person in America who is telling the truth, the only person in America who gets it right is the president of the United States, Donald Trump.

Trumps fragile relationship with the truth has been one of the distinguishing features of his fledgling administration. He astonished observers by calling a judge who issued a legal ruling blocking his travel ban a so-called judge, accused Obama without producing any evidence of wiretapping Trump Tower, and claimed falsely that up to 5 million votes had been cast illegally in the November election.

Sanders, however, suggested the lies all serve a purpose. To underline his point, Sanders compared the 45th president with the 43rd. George Bush was a very conservative president, I opposed him every single day. But George Bush did not operate outside of mainstream American political values.

While the media spotlight remains firmly on Trump and the daily bombardment of his Twitter feed, quietly and largely unmarked, Sanders, the self-styled democratic socialist senator, is spearheading a nationwide resistance to the new administration. The Brooklyn-born politician is working in tandem with, though at arms length from, former senior advisers in his presidential campaign to rouse for a second time the vast army of young people who flocked to his cause in 2016.

He said that despite what he sees as the virulent threat of Trump, he finds comfort in the evidence that the resistance is already in full swing. You are seeing a very active progressive movement. Our Revolution a group which came out of my campaign other groups, the spontaneous Womens March, thats all an indication of the willingness of the American people to fight back for democracy.

Trumps end goal was to end up as the leader of a nation which has moved in a significant degree toward authoritarianism, he said. The only way to defeat that trend is for massive grassroots resistance, and clearly we are seeing that right now.

As examples of what he meant, Sanders pointed to the 150 rallies in 130 congressional districts that were held in one recent weekend alone. The events mobilized tens of thousands of people demanding meetings with their members of Congress to protest against the repeal of the Affordable Care Act.

Sanders made a specific appeal to his Republican colleagues in Congress to join him in this resistance. He addressed himself directly to those Republicans who believe in democracy, who do not believe in authoritarianism. It is incumbent upon them, in this moment in history, to stand up and say that what Trump is doing is not what the United States is about, its not what our constitution is about. They have got to join us in resistance.

He added: I hope in the coming months to be working with some conservative Republicans, who I disagree with on every economic and environmental issue you can imagine, to say to this president that you are not going to undermine American democracy.

The Vermont senator also remarked on the ongoing inquiry into alleged connections between the 2016 Trump campaign and the Russian government under Vladimir Putin. Intelligence agencies have accused the Kremlin of trying to distort the presidential election in Trumps favour by hacking into Democratic email accounts.

Russia played a very heavy role in attempting, successfully, I think, to impact our election. That is unacceptable, Sanders said.

We need to know what kind of influence the Russian oligarchy has over Trump. Many people are astounded. Here he is, seemingly in strong disagreement with Australia, with Mexico, with long-term allies; but he has nothing but positive things to say about Mr Putin who is an authoritarian leader.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/mar/10/bernie-sanders-donald-trump-lies-democracy


Senators seek Rod Rosenstein pledge to name a special prosecutor on Russia ties

Donald Trumps deputy attorney general nominee faces a confirmation hearing in which his approach to investigating alleged Russia ties will be the key question

Will Trumps nominee for deputy attorney general pledge to appoint an independent special prosecutor to investigate the Trump campaigns ties to Russia?

Thats the question Democrats will be asking Rod Rosenstein during his confirmation hearing on Tuesday morning. Chuck Schumer, the Democratic Senate minority leader, said on Monday that this was far and away the most important question that Rosenstein would need to answer.

Richard Blumenthal, one of the Democrats on the Senate judiciary committee, pledged again on Monday to use every tool, every power available to slow Rosensteins confirmation if he would not promise to appoint a special prosecutor.

Schumer said a special prosecutor would have greater latitude to investigate Russias interference in the election, as well as greater independence to conduct the inquiry, since he or she could only be removed from the investigation for good cause and would have the power to prosecute not only the subject of an investigation but anyone who attempts to interfere.

The Republican chair of the Senate judiciary committee resisted these demands. Nobody should be prejudging as to if there should or shouldnt be a special prosecutor, Beth Levine, a spokeswoman for Senator Chuck Grassley, said in a statement. Mr Rosenstein should go into the job without any predeterminations and evaluate the necessity on the facts and the merits.

The FBI is reportedly investigating Russias interference in the 2016 election, including scrutiny of links between Trump associates and Russia.

Under bipartisan pressure from Congress, the attorney general, Jeff Sessions, recused himself last week from overseeing any election-related investigations. Sessions failed to mention his election-year meetings with the Russian ambassador during his own confirmation hearing, despite a direct question about whether he had been in contact with anyone connected to any part of the Russian government about the 2016 election. Sessions later said he should have mentioned the meetings, but has also defended his response as appropriate given that he did not recall any conversations regarding the political campaign on these occasions.

Sessions recusal puts the deputy attorney general, the justice departments second-highest ranking official, in charge of overseeing any investigations of Russian interference in the election.

Rosenstein, currently the US attorney in Maryland, is a widely respected career prosecutor with 26 years experience within the justice department. Former justice officials from Democratic administrations praised his skill and integrity, with one calling him a surprisingly non-partisan choice for a Trump administration appointee, and saying he was the perfect person to oversee a fraught political investigation that might touch on the White House itself.

Schumer and Blumenthal said they believed a special prosecutor should investigate not only Russias interference and any contacts between Moscow and Trump associates, but also whether members of the administration, including Sessions himself, had made cover-up attempts or tried to meddle in the investigation.

In a press conference on Monday, Blumenthal invoked the Watergate investigation of President Richard Nixon, when senators used the confirmation process to force the presidents attorney general nominee to promise to appoint a special prosecutor and guarantee him independence to carry out his investigation.

That same precedent should be followed in Rosensteins confirmation process, Blumenthal said.

Other Democrats on the Senate judiciary committee did not respond to requests for comment on Monday on whether they agreed with Blumenthal.

Democrats have acknowledged Rosensteins reputation as a straight shooter and honorable public servant, with Schumer calling him a fair man.

A CNN survey of about 1,000 American adults found that nearly two-thirds supported having a special prosecutor investigate links between Russia and Trump associates, including 43% of Republicans.

As a young Republican lawyer, Rosenstein was tapped to join Kenneth Starrs independent Whitewater investigation into Bill and Hillary Clintons real estate dealings an investigation that later pivoted to digging into Bill Clintons affair with a White House intern.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/mar/07/rod-rosenstein-confirmation-hearing-trump-russia


Rod Rosenstein: ‘honorable’ US attorney poised to be next Russia investigator

With Jeff Sessions recusal, the widely admired nominee for deputy attorney general could be dropped into the thick of the Trump administration controversy

As a young justice department lawyer, Rod Rosenstein was tapped to join Kenneth Starrs Whitewater investigation into Bill and Hillary Clintons real estate dealings. He showed an uncommon skill with public corruption cases, demonstrating a wisdom and sensitivity beyond his years, his supervisors said.

Now Rosenstein, who made his reputation as a competent, apolitical US attorney who served both Bush and Obama, may investigate another presidents ties to an even more high-profile scandal.

The attorney general, Jeff Sessions, pledged on Thursday he would recuse himself from overseeing any investigations of Russias role in the 2016 election. I should not be involved in investigating a campaign I had a role in, he said, a decision that came after bipartisan pressure from Congress over his failure to disclose two meetings with Russias ambassador during the election year.

Sessions recusal could immediately put Rosenstein into a much higher-profile position than he might have imagined when he was nominated to serve as deputy attorney general. If confirmed, he would oversee any justice department investigation into Russian interference in the election including any contacts between Russia and members of the Trump campaign.

Rosenstein, who is currently the US attorney in Maryland, was a surprising choice to serve as the No 2 official in Trumps justice department, said Philip Heymann, who was Rosensteins law professor at Harvard, and later his boss in the Clinton justice department. Rosenstein has served in the Department of Justice for 26 years, including in the tax division, the public integrity section, and as an assistant US attorney in Maryland.

Rosenstein is a skilled prosecutor and a straight shooter, with a deep knowledge of the day-to-day workings of the department, but he did not seem particularly close to either Sessions or Trump, Heymann said.

It surprises me that they didnt pick somebody who was more partisan, he said.

James Cole, who served for four years as Eric Holders deputy attorney general, also offered unqualified praise for Rosensteins skill and credibility.

He doesnt make any decisions that either are or appear to be political, he said.

Questions on the Russia investigation are likely to be at the center of Rosensteins confirmation hearing on Tuesday. He declined to comment.

Some observers have noted that during the Nixon administration, Senate Democrats used the confirmation process of Nixons attorney general pick, Elliot Richardson, as leverage and refused to confirm him for the job until he named a special prosecutor to oversee the Watergate investigation. Senate Democrats could take a similar approach to Rosensteins confirmation and demand a special prosecutor on Russias interference in the 2016 election, the Intercept suggested on Thursday.

On Sunday night, Richard Blumenthal, one of the Democrats on the Senate judiciary committee, vowed on Twitter that he would use every possible tool to block DOJ Deputy AG nominee unless he commits to appoint [an] independent special prosecutor.

Heymann said both Democrats and Republicans would trust Rosenstein and that he was the perfect person to oversee an investigation into Russias interference in the US election an issue both Democrats and Trump have framed, in different ways, as an inquiry that strikes at the heart of Trumps legitimacy as president.

I think were very lucky to have him in that position, he said.

In February, the Baltimore Sun, Rosensteins hometown paper, called him an honorable public servant with wide bipartisan support who was too good to sell his soul by taking a job in the Trump administration.

Just dont go there. Say no to President Trump, a member of the Suns editorial board advised Rosenstein in an open letter.

Former colleagues praised Rosensteins restraint. He understands that the justice departments role is to do justice rather than bring cases, said Steve Levin, a former federal prosecutor who worked for Rosenstein in Baltimore. Even as he rose into a politically appointed position, he kept the approach and the attitude of a career prosecutor, Levin said.

He is very professional and very determined to be the best prosecutor that he can be and he doesnt take that to mean the most aggressive prosecutor, Heymann said.

Heymann, a longtime justice department official, worked with the Watergate prosecutor, Archibald, Cox on the investigation that led to Nixons resignation, and was also part of investigations into Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton. He said Rosensteins lack of a close relationship with Trump or Sessions could, paradoxically, make his job overseeing any investigation of Russian interference harder.

I think hes in an incredibly difficult position. Ive learned over many, many years its easier to be independent if youre a close friend of the president than if youre not, he said, explaining the importance of having a presidents trust. I would anticipate that the White House would be very worried about anybody that they didnt know well.

As Marylands US attorney, Levin said, Rosenstein has gone after corrupt police officers and prison guards as well as violent gang members. This week, his office announced the arrest of seven Baltimore police officers for racketeering.

Rosenstein has also worked to crack down on national security leaks, announcing charges last fall in a high-profile case against a National Security Agency contractor for stealing classified information.

In response to questions about Russias interference in the election he won, Trump has repeatedly argued that the real scandal is not the attempt of a foreign power to sway an American election, but the national security leaks that have made new angles of the issue public.

Rosensteins predecessor as US attorney in Maryland sparked complaints that he was unfairly targeting Democrats in public corruption cases using his office as a political weapon. Rosenstein brought more stability to the office. When he has gone after public officials as US attorney, he did it an even-handed and a fair way, said Cole, the Obama justice official.

The deputy attorney general is the justice departments chief operation officer, with wide responsibilities for overseeing litigation, crime-fighting strategy, and the federal governments national security policy. If confirmed, he will end up in the situation room a lot, Cole said.

During his confirmation hearing, Sessions made no mention of the two meetings he had with Russias ambassador during the election year, even when asked directly if he had been in contact with anyone connected to any part of the Russian government about the 2016 election. Saying the attorney general appeared to have lied under oath, some Democrats are continuing to demand that he resign. Sessions said that he should have mentioned the meetings with ambassador Sergey Kislyak, but that he did not recall any specific political discussions.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/mar/06/rod-rosenstein-deputy-attorney-general-russia-jeff-sessions


‘Gun for hire’: how Jeff Sessions used his prosecuting power to target Democrats

As the justice departments man in Alabama, Trumps attorney general indicted political opponents in remarkably thin cases, court filings show

Arthur Outlaw wanted a second term.

It was 1989 and Outlaw, the Republican mayor of Mobile, Alabama, was girding himself for his re-election campaign. Word was that Lambert Mims, a popular local Democrat, would run against him. Some Republicans were growing skittish.

But a close friend of Outlaws had something planned. The friend had been president of the state Young Republicans, chairman of the regional GOP, then a senior official in the Mobile County Republican party. And now he was the top federal prosecutor in southern Alabama.

Jeff says that Mims wont be around by that time, an Outlaw aide said ominously, while discussing the election at a City Hall meeting that February, according to a sworn affidavit from an official who was in the room.

A few months later, Mims confirmed that he would be challenging Outlaw. Then Jeff Sessions made his move.

Sessions, then the US attorney for Alabamas southern district, indicted Mims on criminal corruption charges relating to obscure four-year-old negotiations over a planned recycling plant. Mims was the ninth notable Democrat in the area to be indicted by Sessions since the young Republican was appointed by President Ronald Reagan. He would not be the last.

Opponents concluded that Sessions used his federal prosecutors office, and the FBI agents who worked for him, as political weapons, according to more than half a dozen veterans of Mobiles 1980s legal and political circles. Some alleged in court filings that the ambitious young Republican actually worked from a hitlist of Democratic targets.

Sessions was a gun for hire, said Tom Purvis, a former sheriff of Mobile County, and he went after political enemies. Purvis was acquitted of charges against him that Sessions oversaw after Purvis unseated another Outlaw ally from the elected sheriffs position.

The decades-old concerns have been revived by Donald Trumps appointment of Sessions as US attorney general, and the mounting anxiety over his ability to remain even-handed as the nations most senior law enforcement official given his record of vigorous partisanship. Earlier this week, Sessions was pressured into removing himself from oversight of any FBI investigations into the Trump campaigns contacts with Russia.

Bolstering the claims are the remarkably thin prosecution cases brought by Sessions against some of those Democrats he indicted, which are detailed across thousands of pages of archived court filings that were reviewed by the Guardian.

Lambert
Lambert Mims. Photograph: Garry Mitchell/AP

Sessions had no direct evidence that Mims had committed a crime. The recycling plant was never even built. Ive never seen such a flimsy, weak case as this against anybody, Mimss attorney said in court.

Still, Sessionss office, which boasted a 95% conviction rate, persuaded a jury to find Mims guilty. Mims, a 60-year-old lay preacher, sobbed through his trial. He cried when he was convicted, then cried again when he was sentenced to 10 years in prison. I will go to my grave proclaiming my innocence, Mims told Judge Charles Butler.

A few years later, Sessions ran to be Alabama attorney general. His old friend Outlaw, who was also a wealthy businessman, personally donated $25,000 to Sessionss campaign. It was more than any other contributor gave.

He is an ideologue

Sessions began the 1980s on the front lines of Mobiles partisan warfare.

Having left his job as an assistant US attorney following the election of Jimmy Carter as US president, Sessions worked on Ronald Reagans triumphant 1980 White House bid in Alabama and campaigned to elect fellow Republicans to local offices that were then still dominated by conservative Democrats.

After one such contest ended in narrow defeat for a Republican nominee, Sessions was incandescent. The 34-year-old disputed the result in the county courts and forcefully demanded a full recount.

During one hearing, Sessions so furiously accused the Democrats of wrongdoing that the judge ruled him out of order three times. The Republicans took the election challenge all the way to the Alabama supreme court before finally admitting defeat.

It was a declaration of intent.

He is an ideologue, said Ed Massey, a Mobile attorney who has known Sessions since the 1970s. His attitude was, Ive got a job to do, and this is what I think my job is, and Im going to do it with guns blazing.

A few months later, Sessions was announced as Reagans choice to fill the top job in the federal prosecutors office in Mobile. Once installed, he quickly got to work on reshaping the agenda of this little outpost of the US justice department.

In September 1982, Bob Gulledge, a first-term Democratic state senator, was preparing to defend his seat when Sessions indicted him for alleged land fraud conspiracy. Gulledge and an associate had profited from the sale of a tract of land that had been bought with a mortgage from a government-backed lender where the associate was also an executive.

What are we doing here? Wheres the crime? Gulledges exasperated attorney asked the court at trial, after Sessions gave an extravagant 90-minute opening statement.

The attorney, Barry Hess, said Gulledge was no different from other borrowers except he happened to be in the state senate, and happened to be running for re-election soon:

The prosecutor is like a dog with a bone, said Hess. Its a bone with no meat on it, but he keeps playing with it, burying it. There just aint any meat on it.

A mistrial was declared after jurors could not reach a verdict. But by then, Gulledge had lost his party primary contest, and was out of his re-election race altogether. He did not respond to requests for comment.

As the next election season approached in late 1984, Sessions struck again. The city commissioner, Gary Greenough, was sentenced to 10 years for allegedly stealing a cut of the profits from Mobiles municipal auditorium, a city-run entertainment venue that hosted top-tier shows such as the Jacksons, Santana, and Kool and the Gang.

Greenough, who had, with Lambert Mims, pushed through municipal contracting reforms that left Sessions allies out of pocket, always maintained his innocence.

And a review of the case shows that the evidence against him was far from clear-cut. His conviction rested on the testimony of two auditorium managers, who were clearly guilty of embezzlement themselves, and made plea deals with Sessions in return for their cooperation in prosecuting Greenough.

In the paperwork that he submitted earlier this year to the US Senate judiciary committee for his confirmation hearings, Sessions named the Greenough case as one of the 10 most significant of his career.

It was about eliminating opposition, said Danny Mims, one of Mimss sons. The reason they targeted my father was that he was really good at it.

Rejection for a federal judgeship

Activists
Activists call on the Senate to reject Jeff Sessions as attorney general in November. Photograph: Leigh Vogel/Getty Images for People For The

The fight was not only partisan but generational. Members of a so-called Old Establishment in Mobile politics were increasingly seeing their jobs, and patronage for their corporate backers, threatened by a new breed of upstarts. With Sessions as its spearhead, the establishment fought back.

Rumors began flying around Mobiles corridors of power and newspaper gossip columns about who might be next in line for indictment. The atmosphere grew increasingly febrile.

They would do it just to shake the branches, said one prominent Mobile attorney from the time, who did not want to be identified being critical of the US attorney general because he still practices law. The FBI would put people through these vague, threatening interviews, trying to get them to say things about other people.

The inquiry into Greenough was led by Jack Brennan, a senior FBI agent in Mobile who was close to Sessions. Distinctive for his puffy red face and thinning hair, Brennan would reappear several times in Sessionss cases against local Democrats. Reached by email, he did not respond to questions.

At 7am on 25 November 1985, Brennan and two other investigators paid a visit to the home of Gurney Owens, Mobile Countys top waste disposal official. Owens was in deep trouble.

He had been caught on tape soliciting a bribe from a local businessman, who had been trying to secure a landfill contract. Unknown to Owens, the businessman, Gerald Godwin, had been wearing a wire for the FBI and Sessions when the pair chatted over a breakfast of eggs, bacon and coffee at the Quality Inn.

Now the agents in his living room were telling Owens they could help him to help himself. He was facing a long prison sentence, they said, but it could be cut down to two years if he cooperated with what they and Sessions wanted.

The US attorneys office and the FBI presented to Mr Owens a hitlist of approximately 20 people that they wanted him to snare, Owenss attorney, Jim Atchison, said in a statement filed to court. It is interesting to note that every single person on the list is either a well-known Democrat or active in the Democratic party.

The county waste official said he was dumbfounded by what was being asked of him. They told me that they wanted me to wear a concealed radio transmitter and go out and talk to a number of people and see if I could involve them in something improper or illegal, Owens said in his own statement.

Sessions flatly denied the existence of a hit list, later telling US senators that Owenss allegation was one of the most amazing things I have ever seen in my practice of law. A justice department review agreed that the claim of a list was utterly without foundation.

But William Hinshaw, the FBI official who took over the Mobile office in 1986, said in an interview that it was feasible. It is a technique that is used, he said, noting that a justice department official should sign off on such a target list.

Owens declined to take the deal. He was convicted and sentenced to 10 years in prison.

Sessions would get really, really mad at my dad because my dad refused to roll over, recalled Owenss son Gerry, who said he once watched an enraged Sessions berate his father in a courthouse corridor. Hed be sitting there calm as can be, and would then explode like a firecracker.

In any case, Owens had already helped Sessions and the FBI with one of their targets. On the secret recordings, Owens was heard claiming he had been ordered to collect the bribe by Douglas Wicks, a Democratic county commissioner, who had voting power on who should win the contract.

Wicks insisted that this was merely a cover story that Owens told to make himself look better while requesting money he would actually keep himself. Sessions did not initially indict Wicks for involvement in the alleged bribery. But then came Sessionss disastrous visit to Washington DC.

Still only 39 years old, Sessions was nominated by Reagan for another promotion as a federal judge for Alabamas southern district.

Democrats in the Senate had other ideas. Members of the Senate judiciary committee voted to reject Sessions, after receiving allegations of racism toward African Americans. It was only the second time in 50 years that a nominee had been denied a federal judgeship.

Wicks, who had been the first black person elected to the Mobile County commission, had a walk-on role in the melodrama. During the Senate hearings, future vice-president Joe Biden asked Sessions if it was true that he called Wicks a nigger during a break in a court hearing in November 1981.

Sessions denied using the racist term but the allegation, coupled with other first-hand accounts of Sessions use of racially insensitive language, went some way to killing his nomination.

A few months later, his judgeship prospects in tatters, Sessions indicted Wicks after all. The indictment for extortion was publicly unveiled by Sessions two days after the Senate confirmed an attorney to take the judgeship he had been denied.

Sessions decided to go after me because he didnt get the judgeship, Wicks said, echoing remarks he made immediately after being indicted.

Sessions accused Wicks of demanding a bribe from the owner of a pumping firm in return for a permit. Owens said so, too. But the businessman testified that he voluntarily gave Wicks a campaign contribution after the permit had been given. I dont feel that I was extorted, he said.

douglas
Douglas Wicks. Photograph: Courtesy Douglas Wicks

There was also no proof offered that Wicks had received the bribes that Owens was recorded asking for. Brennan, the FBI agent, fed Godwin wads of marked $20 bills to make the bribes, and then followed Wicks around Mobile trying to catch him spending them at stores and restaurants. But none of the $20s were recovered.

The lack of any smoking gun might have seen Wicks headed for an acquittal. But something extraordinary happened in the days before his trial.

On 4 March 1987, Wicks and a friend were looking around vacant houses that had recently been bought by the city of Mobile. The structures were to be sold and moved elsewhere to make way for new construction. Wicks and his friend stopped at one house with a set of anti-burglar bars on the ground outside. They picked up the bars and threw them in their truck to sell as scrap metal.

But a man appeared and told them that he was in the process of buying the house. Where are you going with my stuff? asked the man. Wicks, who thought he recognized the man, apologized. We didnt know anybody owned this place, Wicks said. They returned the bars to where they had been found, and left.

Wicks later realized that the man who had confronted them was Brennan, the FBI agent and friend of Sessions, who had been surveilling Wicks for months for the corruption case. Wicks was charged with theft. A story about the case ran on the front page of the Mobile Register under the headline Wicks charged with felony. Days later, Wickss trial for extortion began.

It was unfair, so unfair, said Irmatean Watson, a Democratic city councilwoman at the time. It was all political. Douglas didnt do anything wrong.

Hinshaw, then the FBI field office chief, said in an interview that Sessions had personally approved the arrest of Wicks for the theft and brushed aside any concerns about political correctness or awkward timing.

He strenuously denied that the theft charge was cooked up to tarnish Wickss name before his trial. Agent Brennan insisted that he really was buying the house, and that another man named as the purchaser in the county records was acting on his behalf.

But Wicks and his attorney, Billy Kimbrough, claimed the FBI had been watching and waiting for any act by Wicks that they could make look like criminal activity. The following month the charges relating to the burglar bars were dismissed. By then, Wicks had been found guilty in the corruption trial and sentenced to 15 years in prison.

Mims was not a crook

It was the prosecution of Mims, however, that astonished even hardened Mobile political operatives. At the center of the case, wearing a wire once again, was Gerald Godwin, the same businessman who helped Sessions nail Owens and Wicks.

Godwin alleged that he had been pressured to give 40% of his company to a friend of Mimss if he wanted Mims to award him the contract to develop the recycling plant.

There was no evidence presented of such extortion, let alone Mimss knowledge of it, let alone his involvement in it. Godwin claimed to have been threatened on 30 September, yet Mims had already signed a city resolution agreeing to the plant almost a week before that. The negotiations collapsed and the plant was never built.

And yet four years after Mims had stepped down from politics, and shortly after he reappeared with his campaign for mayor Sessions proceeded with criminal charges against him.

Mims was not a crook. He would never have knowingly done anything like what they claimed, his attorney, Thomas Haas, said in a recent interview. These people were politically motivated.

After pleading not guilty, Mims told reporters that he was a victim of people who have used the system to try to destroy me politically and that the indictment had been timed to affect the outcome of the election.

The authorities had even sent an FBI agent into Mimss office, posing as an executive from a mortgage lender, and tried to make Mims reveal illegal cronyism by saying on tape that his friend would definitely be awarded the contract. But Mims was only recorded saying platitudes such as: Naturally, Id rather see local people get it rather than to bring in somebody from out of state.

So underwhelming was the evidence when played in court that the Mobile Registers front page headline the following day was: Recording reveals no wrongdoing.

Attempting to have the case thrown out, Haas called it a farce and a cruel joke. In his closing argument, he told jurors: You have wasted 10 weeks of your life. There is no evidence of any criminal activity by Mr Mims. Youve heard the evidence. Thats all there is, folks. The fat lady has sung.

After more than 20 hours of deliberations, however, the jury found Mims guilty.

Asked following the trial whether he had brought the prosecution to kill Mimss political career, Sessions said nothing could be further from the truth. These cases are based on the law and the facts and not on any other consideration, he said.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/mar/04/jeff-sessions-legal-past-democrats-trump-administration


Draft of first Trump budget would cut legal aid for millions of poor Americans

Draft proposes elimination of Legal Services Corporation, which provides free legal assistance to low-income people, victims of domestic violence and others

Cuts in Donald Trumps first draft budget to funding for legal aid for millions of Americans could strip much-needed protections from victims of domestic violence, people with disabilities, families facing foreclosure and veterans in need, justice equality advocates warned Tuesday.

A Trump draft budget circulated over the weekend called for the elimination of the Legal Services Corporation (LSC), which has a $375m annual budget and provides free legal assistance to low-income people and others in need of help, with cases involving disability benefits, disaster relief, elder abuse, fair pay, wheelchair access, low-income tax credits, unlawful eviction, child support, consumer scams, school lunch, predatory lending and much more.

The legal aid program, which represents a miniscule portion of the governments projected $4tn budget, is one of many small but mighty programs flagged for elimination in Trumps draft budget. Others include the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Americorps and the National Endowments for the Arts and Humanities. Critics of the cuts point out that they wont budge the deficit but would erode quality of life and threaten the most vulnerable.

The possible legal aid cuts would come at a time when potentially softer enforcement by the Trump administration of laws to punish domestic violence, protect Americans with disabilities and combat discriminatory housing practices could create a spike in demand, said Rebecca Buckwalter-Poza, a fellow at the Center for American Progress who has written on the issue.

Weve already gotten an indication that theyre probably going to cut grants for domestic violence cases, VAWA-related grants, and thats one of the biggest categories that legal aid grantees use, Buckwalter-Poza said, referring to the Violence Against Women Act. This is a huge blow to women in particular, and thats devastating.

And whats so disturbing about the potential for the administration to eliminate LSC altogether is that at the same time, you have a Department of Justice thats probably not going to enforce the types of legislation on the governments side that supplements private action, like the Fair Housing Act or the Americans With Disabilities Act. And at the same time that theyre going to stop doing that, people are going to have fewer options for seeking out free legal assistance.

Linda Klein, president of the American Bar Association, the lawyers organization, said that the Legal Services Corporation assured access to justice for all, the very idea that propelled our nation to independence.

Our nations core values are reflected in the LSCs work in securing housing for veterans, freeing seniors from scams, serving rural areas when others wont, protecting battered women, helping disaster survivors back to their feet, and many others, Klein said in a statement. Thirty cost-benefit analyses all show that legal aid returns far more benefits than costs to communities across America.

The legal services corporation was created by a 1974 law, signed by Richard Nixon, acknowledging a need to provide equal access to the system of justice in our nation. The corporation helped an estimated 1.8m people in 2013, 70% of them women living near or below the poverty line. But studies indicate that legal aid offices turn away about 50% of clients in need owing to a lack of resources.

Trumps proposed budget is not all or even mostly cuts. It emerged on Tuesday that the president had directed the Department of Homeland Security to hire 10,000 more customs and immigration agents. Trump has vowed to build a border wall costing billions and to ramp up military spending.

Trumps recently confirmed budget director, Mick Mulvaney, twice co-sponsored legislation as a member of Congress from South Carolina to abolish the Legal Services Corporation. Mulvaney told a home-state newspaper this week that he was about to become the most hated man in Washington.

Republicans going back to Ronald Reagan have opposed funding for the Legal Services Corporation and related funding, arguing in part that it was not the governments responsibility to cover legal costs. As a 1973 federal racial discrimination lawsuit against Donald Trump and his real estate company illustrated, however, legal proceedings can be crucial to protecting American freedoms and rights against unsavory actors.

These are obviously critical, livelihood-related, day-to-day issues for people who certainly cant afford a lawyer on their own, Buckwalter-Poza said.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/feb/21/trump-draft-budget-legal-aid-low-income


Steve Bannon is calling the shots in the White House. That’s terrifying | Lawrence Douglas

He is unvetted, unconfirmed but immensely powerful all thanks to the undisciplined and distracted Donald Trump

That didnt take long. From no-drama Obama to all-trauma Trump: the shift has been seismic, leaving millions in this country and abroad frightened and struggling to make sense of Americas new political landscape.

Some of the upheaval appears to be the consequence of incompetence, the predictable result of an under-qualified real estate mogul struggling to master the most powerful and demanding job on the planet.

But not so with the travel ban. In this case, upheaval was the intent not to the degree we have seen; that clearly caught the administration off guard. But it was upheaval nonetheless.

As we now know, the drafting and rollout of the travel ban was largely the work of Steve Bannon, the presidents chief political strategist. It was Bannon who reportedly overruled the proposal to exempt green card holders from the ban. And it was Bannon who pushed the order through without consulting experts at the Department of Homeland Security or at the state department.

The Nacht und Nebel quality of the bans announcement makes clear that the presidents chief strategist wanted to send tremors through the world. Here was bold proof that the portentous accents of Trumps inaugural address, also Bannons work, was not mere rhetoric.

Now the world would know what America First means not first in democracy or human rights; not first in recognizing an obligation to victims of humanitarian crisis (some of which we have helped create). No, this was America first in pugilism, parochialism and misplaced protectionism.

Some insist that all this is simply Bannon throwing meat to the presidents base, plucking a page from Karl Roves playbook. Rove, the chief strategist for George W Bush (for whom many are now feeling a once inconceivable nostalgia), famously sought to consolidate his bosss power not by tacking toward the middle but by feeding the base.

Only it would be wrong to see Bannon as Rove 2.0. At his heart, Rove was a consummate political operator, for whom ideology was a tool, not an article of belief. Rove was a careerist and an opportunist, whose principal goal was the preservation and expansion of Republican political power.

Bannon is an altogether different creature. Listen to his early speeches. Bannon is a crusader, fighting to redeem a corrupt country betrayed by its feckless and greedy leaders. He once described himself as a Leninist, intent on destroying all of todays establishment.

For Bannon, America is engaged in a pitched struggle against threats from within and without. It is a battle that will last years, and requires iron resolve and steely determination. If the free press, a bastion of democratic self-governance, does not grasp these elusive truths, then it should keep its mouth shut, he says.

Bannon is not the presidents servant. The president is his tool. For years, Bannon cast about for the proper vehicle to carry the fight forward. Sarah Palin, Rick Perry they were considered possible material. Now in Donald Trump he has found adequate if imperfect stuff. Both are workaholics. Both share a protectionist mindset. Both are combative.

But Bannon, in contrast to the president, is not easily distracted. He is intelligent, articulate, focused in his ideology and dedicated to the struggle. And he has now been catapulted by an undisciplined president to the inner precincts of the National Security Council and its principals committee, assuming a position senior to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the director of national intelligence.

Unvetted, unconfirmed but immensely powerful, Bannon may just be the most dangerous man in America.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/jan/31/steve-bannon-most-dangerous-man-in-america


Trump orders Dodd-Frank review in effort to roll back financial regulation

President says bill meant to prevent another financial crisis is crippling the economy as critics charge that Trump is caving in to Wall Street

Donald Trump moved to roll back the financial regulations brought in after the last financial crisis on Friday, directing a review of the Dodd-Frank Act, which was enacted to ensure there would never be another 2008-style meltdown.

The US president said his latest executive order was necessary because the regulations were too onerous on business and hurting the economy. But the move was largely symbolic only Congress can rewrite the legislation.

A second directive is expected to halt the implementation of an Obama-era rule that would have required brokers to act in a clients best interest when providing retirement advice, rather than seek the highest profits for themselves.

We desperately need to overhaul how we approach financial regulation, said the White House press secretary, Sean Spicer. He said Dodd-Frank was a disastrous policy that was crippling the US economy.

Opponents of reform immediately accused Trump of caving in to Wall Street after a campaign pledge to hold banks accountable.

Donald Trump talked a big game about Wall Street during his campaign but as president, were finding out whose side hes really on, said Senator Elizabeth Warren, one of Trumps fiercest critics.

The Wall Street bankers and lobbyists whose greed and recklessness nearly destroyed this country may be toasting each other with champagne, but the American people have not forgotten the 2008 financial crisis and they will not forget what happened today.

Before signing the order, Trump met with his business advisory panel, which includes 18 executives from large US companies including GE, Citigroup, General Motors, Tesla and Disney.

We expect to be cutting a lot out of Dodd-Frank, because frankly I have so many people, friends of mine, that have nice businesses and they cant borrow money They just cant get any money because the banks just wont let them borrow because of the rules and regulations in Dodd-Frank. So well be talking about that in terms of the banking industry, Trump said.

The president was backed by Gary Cohn, director of the national economic council and a former Goldman Sachs banker. Americans are going to have better choices and Americans are going to have better products because were not going to burden the banks with literally hundreds of billions of dollars of regulatory costs every year, Cohn said in an interview with the Wall Street Journal. The banks are going to be able to price product more efficiently and more effectively to consumers.

Cohn, formerly the chief operating officer at Goldman, said the executive order was a table-setter for a bunch of stuff that is coming.

On the campaign trail, Trump accused Hillary Clinton and his Republican rival Ted Cruz of being in bed with Goldman Sachs. He also said hedge funds were getting away with murder.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/feb/03/trump-dodd-frank-act-executive-order-financial-regulations


Residents of Los Angeles’ Little Persia denounce Trump’s ‘unjust’ travel ban

Order has immediate chilling effect on Iranian community, as some worry about family and friends who have green cards and visas who are marooned in Iran

The sun still shined on Westwood Boulevard, the thrumming commercial heart of the biggest Iranian community outside Iran.

Families lunched on chicken kabob at Flame, Shaherzad and other restaurants. Students browsed titles in Farsi bookstores. Music lovers flicked through CDs of Ebrahim Ebi Hamedi, the king of Persian pop.

Just another Saturday in Tehrangeles, a portmanteau of Tehran and Los Angeles coined by exiles and their descendants also known as Little Persia, a term so well established Google Maps recognises it.

The apparent normality deceived. In hushed and bewildered tones, people wondered whether they still recognised the United States, the adopted homeland that had welcomed and sheltered them but now labelled them potential terrorists.

It is totally unjust. This will affect thousands and thousands of families that are completely innocent, said Siamak, a 56-year-old physician who fled Iran after the ayatollahs took over in 1979. We ourselves are victims of terrorism. Now we are branded terrorists?

The news was still sinking in: Donald Trump had signed an executive order halting arrivals from Iran and six other Muslim-majority countries as part of his extreme vetting to keep out terrorists.

The order, named the Protection of the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States, imposes a a 90-day block on entry from citizens from Iran, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Sudan, Libya and Somalia.

Irans foreign affairs ministry said it will take legal, political and reciprocal measures.

Overnight, many of the up to 500,000 Iranians and Iranian Americans who live in southern California felt as though the US border had clanged shut. If they leave, they may not be able to return. Those who are currently outside the US even those with green cards and visas are marooned.

My friend is visiting relatives in Tehran and now hes stuck, said a young bookseller, who like most interviewees did not want her name published. Hes got a job here, a mortgage, car payments. What will happen to him?

The question hung over every family with noncitizen relatives abroad. Its ridiculous, said Sam, a restaurant manager. Weve felt good here. California is very open-minded. But now this. His voice trailed off.

The director Ashgar Farhadi, who won an Oscar in 2012 for his film A Separation, and is nominated again for The Salesman, may not be able to attend next months ceremony, an absence which would fuel Hollywoods animus towards the Trump administration. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences called the prospect extremely troubling.

One middle-aged woman, loading groceries into a Porsche, quivered with indignation. Iranians are not murderers. Iranians are not terrorists. Americans should know that. She said sanity would return. Trump is not going to last so long. Theyll impeach him.

Trump had promised a crackdown during the campaign but the executive order still came as a shock. Californias Iranians, who often prefer the term Persian to distance themselves from Irans current leadership, form a thriving community with roots stretching back decades. Some arrived as students in the 1960s, followed by waves of exiles after the 1979 revolution.

Muslims tended to settle in Orange Country and the San Fernando valley, Jews in Westwood and Beverly Hills.

Anecdotal evidence suggests many Jewish Iranians voted for Trump because he strongly backed Israel and bashed Tehrans rulers. Some are unrepentant.

Yes, Trump! said one 70-year-old man who gave his name only as Kevin. He will stop the terrorists. You know when you leave your house, you lock the door, right? Hes doing right.

Asked whether a blanket ban on Iranian citizens was a good idea, Kevin hesitated. All, maybe not. But you have to lock your house.

Hassan Ali, a 29-year-old engineer from Pakistan who was buying pepper in Tehran Market, said targeting Muslims or any other religion was un-American. This country is supposed to be a melting pot.

The executive order seemed to have a chilling, immediate effect. Of 16 people of Iranian heritage interviewed at random in west LA, not one was willing to have their full name published.

Holly Dagres, a Middle East commentator, discovered the same reluctance among her contacts. Iranians are scared to share.

The community in Tehrangles learned to keep its head down during the hostile atmosphere engendered by the 1979 hostage crisis. Embracing the term Persian evoking carpets, cats and antiquity was a way to avoid connotations of terrorism and fanaticism.

But that linguistic sidestep did not deflect Trump, said Siamak, the physician. He has branded us. The stereotype is back. I fear things will get worse and worse.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/jan/29/los-angeles-iranians-little-persia-trump-travel-ban


The great Donald Trump confidence trick: symbolism over substance | Michael Paarlberg

The executive orders signed on Monday will raise mortgage costs and health care premiums for the very people the new president claims to champion

Donald Trump promised to do a lot of things on day one of his presidency. Instead, he spent his first full day in office at the CIA, trying to impress a roomful of intelligence officers by bragging about how many Time magazine covers hes been on. Is Donald Trump an intellectual? Trust me, Im, like, a smart person, he told them, which suggests he thinks the word intelligence in the government context means really smart.

When he finally got down to business, though, he showed he does know a few things, like how he got to where he is and what he needs to do to stay there. He may not have fulfilled the vast majority of those day one, first hour campaign pledges (deport 2 million criminal aliens, introduce congressional term limits, get rid of gun-free school zones), but the ones he did fulfill demonstrated hes smart enough to understand whats really important to his supporters, and to his party, even if theyre not always the same thing.

So two of his first executive orders broke with Republican party orthodoxy and trashed a pair of trade deals, the TPP and Nafta. Free trade deals are popular in principle with economists, unpopular in practice with pretty much everyone else. So its an easy political calculation, yet one thats eluded Republicans and most Democrats since the Clinton era. Bashing free trade may be hard for some of the GOPs ideological purists to swallow, but the promise of a permanent Republican majority in the midwest makes it go down a lot easier, and all the more so by the fact that neither executive order actually does anything.

Like any good con artist or semiotics philosopher, Trump gets the importance of symbolism over substance. His TPP order withdraws from a treaty that was never ratified by Congress in the first place. His Nafta order simply states his intention to renegotiate the treaty at some future date. A third executive order does the same to Obamacare, reasserting Trumps plan to dismantle it but doing effectively nothing. Something incredibly cryptic that nobody understands was how one former Republican Senate aide described the executive order, which sounds a lot like how Republicans talk about Obamacare. In fact, the brilliance of the orders is in their vagueness, allowing Trump to take credit for his opposition to unpopular laws without having to bear any of the costs: the messy task of actually taking away peoples health insurance will, after all, be left to Congress.

Similarly, another of his executive orders freezes hiring for a federal workforce that has already been effectively frozen for decades. The total size of the federal workforce today 2.8 million is the same as it was at the beginning of the Obama administration, and well below what it was under Ronald Reagan (3.15 million). As a percentage of the total workforce, the federal workforce has been shrinking steadily since the mid-20th century and is now down from 7% to under 2%, as Doug Henwood notes, lower than what it was when Obama took office. Several offices have been under hiring freezes for years, including the Social Security Administration and immigration courts.

Hiring freezes play well politically but provide little in value to taxpayers. All they do is accelerate outsourcing to private government contractors whose gleaming offices dot the northern Virginia landscape. They do the same work at twice the cost to taxpayers, often by the very same ex-federal employees wooed away by cushier, private sector salaries. Bashing federal workers is one thing both parties can always agree on; both Jimmy Carter and Reagan implemented hiring freezes as president. It lets politicians play to the anti-government crowd while lining their pockets with contributions from those contractors who rely on their budgetary largesse.

These orders wont do any good for the ordinary Americans Trump champions. Theyll raise their mortgages and healthcare premiums, and funnel more of their taxes to a small gang of politically connected beltway bandits. But they offer a cheap way to sell Trumps unique brand of populist nationalism to a still skeptical Republican party. They allow him to play to his base without actually doing anything. And they give him some very real benefits to dangle in front of Republicans and their funders, who will be happy to stomach a few empty protectionist gestures in exchange for the opportunity to drain the swamp right into their pocketbooks.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/jan/24/executive-orders-trump-policy-tpp-nafta


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